Friends to the end

You should forgive your friends anything, but had Penny gone too far?

Published by: Laura Hinton and Isobel Dickinson
Published on: 16 February 2012

You could have cut the tension with a knife. On one side of the dinner table sat me and my boyfriend Jack, 22. On the other were my best mate Penny, 19, and Jason, 23, the bloke I'd set her up with. But this double date at the Harvester couldn't have been going any worse!
All I could hear was the chink of knives and the occasional embarrassed cough. I wracked my brain for something interesting to say. ‘How are Wolves doing?' I finally asked, broaching the one subject I knew Jack could talk about for hours.
But Penny answered. ‘They actually won the other day,' she said, her face flushing as if she felt silly for having such a passion for football.
Moments later, it fell silent again. Nobody was enjoying themselves. My attempt at playing Cupid had been a terrible idea! ‘I'd better head off then,' Jason sighed. Phew!
‘I'll see you off,' I told him, jumping up. By the cab, I took the opportunity to apologise. ‘Sorry that didn't work out...'
‘No worries,' he shrugged.
Walking back inside, I felt frustrated. I'd only arranged this night because I was worried Penny felt like the odd one out with me and Jack. We'd been friends for seven years before he'd come along 18 months before.
Strolling back in, though, I caught sight of an awkward moment between Penny and Jack. She had tears in her eyes, and Jack was reaching out for her hand.
Unease fluttered in my tummy. It looked so... intimate. For a moment, I wanted to turn around, pretend I hadn't seen them. Instead, I cleared my throat.
‘What's going on?!' I asked, trying to sound casual.
‘Tell her,' Penny told Jack. The way she was looking at me, it was like she felt sorry for me. But he just hung his head.
‘I'm in love with Jack,' she blurted out. I thought she was joking - until Jack nodded.
‘It's been going on a year,' he muttered. I couldn't believe it.
‘How could you?!' I spat, tears spilling from my eyes.
My best mate and boyfriend had been having an affair behind my back. I'd been trying to set Penny up with someone, but all that time she'd been at it with Jack. Heart racing, I only had one thought, Get out! So I ran off, leaving them and their excuses behind.
Before I knew it, I'd ended up at my friend Devon's house - who just happened to be Penny's sister. Still, in bits, I hammered on her door. ‘What happened?' she cried, pulling me in.
‘It's Penny,' I sobbed. ‘She's been seeing Jack for a year!'
‘What?' she gasped. ‘How could they?!'
‘Don't take sides,' I begged. ‘I just need to talk to someone. I keep thinking about all those times they must have been together...'
Only months before, Jack had taken Penny to watch Wolves play.
They'd been so full of it when they'd got home. ‘I had such a laugh,' Penny had smiled as they'd filled me in.
‘She even knows the offside rule,' Jack had teased. ‘Just!'
‘Oi! Cheeky,' Penny had grinned, playfully swatting his arm. Stupid me, I'd thought I was lucky for getting out of going! Had been grateful to her. I couldn't believe her betrayal.
Poor Devon, 21, must have felt torn between me and her sister, but over the following days she never let it show.
One night, we went to our local, the one me, Jack and Penny had always gone to. Sitting there with Devon, sipping my wine, I remembered how I'd first introduced them there on New Year's Eve. I'd been so pleased they'd hit it off, they'd spent the whole night chatting and laughing.
Had the spark been lit between them even then?
Despite my hurt, I missed Penny. Ever since school, we'd been joined at the hip. Shopping, cinema trips...where one went, the other followed. And the one person I'd always gone to with boyfriend trouble was her!
I ached to call her. Worse still, I couldn't help hearing about Penny now. We had so many mutual friends.
Four months later, our pal Dave, 22, came to see me. ‘There's no easy way to tell you this,' he sighed. ‘Penny and Jack are engaged.' That knocked the wind out of me, but I felt strangely calm. I'd realised me and Jack hadn't been right for each other.
It helped that I'd just started dating again, too. Phil, 22, knew Jack, knew what he'd done to me. ‘I know he hurt you,' he'd tell me. ‘We'll take it slowly.'
Then I got a text. I'd really like to meet, it read, love Penny.
I stared at it, undecided. I was over Jack, but... I missed my best friend so much. Before I could change my mind, I'd agreed. Would I want to scream at her for betraying me? Would we ever get our friendship back on track? I felt so nervous.
But the minute we started talking in the pub, it was like nothing had happened. I felt... fine. ‘I'm so sorry,' she said, sadly. ‘We just fell for each other.'
‘You're good together,' I admitted, noticing her ring.
‘I miss you,' she added. Could time be a healer?
Over the following few weeks, I saw more of Penny. Sometimes just her, sometimes with our mates. If Jack was there, we were polite to each other, but that was all.
It was Penny I wanted. I could never forgive her, but I wanted my old pal back. I knew I could be the bigger person.
But there was one more shock in store for me. ‘Umm, Terri... will you be my bridesmaid?' she asked. What?! ‘It's just... you're my best friend. But I understand if the answer is no...'
I looked at her, not knowing how to feel. ‘I can't imagine you not being there,' she added.
‘I'll think about it,' I promised. And I did. I couldn't imagine not being there either.
‘I'll do it,' I smiled.
So in July I'll stand beside Penny and my ex as they wed. It might be weird - especially as Phil is being Jack's best man - but it'd be weirder not to go. Penny might have fallen in love with my bloke, but she'll always be my best mate. 

Penny Crawford, 19, said: ‘I never meant to hurt Terri, she's like a sister to me. I couldn't help falling in love with Jack.'
Jack Shaw, 22, said: ‘I really cared about Terri. The fact that she's been able to forgive us shows what a nice person she is.'

Terri Smith, 22, Halesowen, West Midlands